Some good news please by Lindani Mchunu

It has been as clear as daylight that what we have done in the past couple of years with this academy has indeed been the right thing to do. If this lockdown and Covid-19 pandemic has proved anything, it is that indeed our society is unequal. Absolute equality is a fool’s errand, there will always be differences across the board. Yet what this period of strife has done is to ask us a few critical questions.

There is only one question that interests me personally. What does a dignified life mean to us at the most basic level? I believe this is the question we should all ask ourselves individually and then collectively. At our Academy we believe swimming is a human right and therefore, all the youngsters that come through our door, walk away with a swimming certificate. That is our bottom. We believe even if the youngsters are not great sailors, or don’t have what it takes to make it through our program, they will definitely walk away with a swimming certificate.

That decision to ensure that we give each and every single youth in our program the opportunity to learn to swim, defines us as an Academy, more than the learners. It’s a threshold we have defined for ourselves. The learners of our Academy may not come out on an equal footing when they complete the program, but they will all be able to swim as a bare minimum.

This is the question I believe we should all ask ourselves. What is our bottom as a society? So much has been written about this global pandemic, we have seen it ravage countries from afar and finally like a tsunami, we saw it devastate our beautiful country and it continues to do so. We all know that we have been let down by those that are supposed to lead us, they have always let us down, maybe it is the nature of all politicians, self-interest before anything else.

Maybe it is the nature of power, self-preservation before anything else. It would be so easy to say all human beings are this way, in times of peril they self-preserve. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. I read a book many years ago, which was written by a holocaust survivor, who was based at one of the concentration camps. In the book he shares a few observations about the human condition when faced with life threatening and hopeless circumstances.

What I remember quite vividly from the book was a story he told about a man who was dying of hunger in one of the sleeping quarters. Instead of the other prisoners stripping him of everything and letting him die. They gave him food and warm clothing, made him soup and tried their utmost to save this man’s life, even though everyone knew it was an exercise in futility. After all, they were all going to die as far as they were concerned, if not through hunger, then they were all going to be shot, or burned. The man never made it, he died in his sleep. When one of the prisoners pointed out that they might have wasted food that could have been shared amongst the living, one of them replied, “we are more than our stomachs”.

For this holocaust survivor it was very clear that human beings are good at heart and when faced with certain death, they believe the most important thing to preserve is life itself. Yet what I took away is that human beings value something else beyond life itself and that is Dignity. Human beings believe no matter the circumstances, we all deserve dignified lives and if it comes down to it then we deserve a dignified death. We may disagree on many things as a society. Yet what we should all agree on after this nightmare is over, is what does a dignified life mean to us and what is our bottom.

Our academy kids were stuck at home like all of us during the pandemic. They did not have access to internet and they did not have laptops or devices to access educational material. I do not believe social distancing was possible in some of their homes. We have managed to get some quotations for a very affordable device that we can purchase for 35 of our learners to be able to access online learning platforms, through the assistance of one of our members we have also been able to create an e-learning platform for our learn to sail program, with assessments and tests for the learners.

I will be sending this proposal to possible funders – please feel free to contact me through the office or directly if you can assist. One might say this is a futile exercise in the current economic times, but if you have been reading until now, you know how I feel about futile exercises, I don’t pay much attention to them, like those prisoners in the concentration camps even in the face of death, life is important.

We recently also did a closing report for one of our funders, who has supported us for the past two years. It was interesting going back two years and seeing how many lives we have touched, how many learners we have developed and equipped with skills. One of our students is a girl from Khayelitsha who is now enrolled in the False Bay boat building school, she arrived in 2016, and she didn’t know what a boat was nor how to swim.

Indeed this year of 2020 has shown us life is unpredictable and nothing is guaranteed. Yet what it has also shown us, is not matter the circumstances, we always have a choice in how we choose to respond to any situation, we always have a choice to either be defined by our circumstances or to define who we are through our circumstances. I would like to say to all of you, keep floating, keep going and always define yourself by your choices no matter the circumstances. And if I may be bold enough let me suggest that you choose your principles above all else. As always see you on the water.

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